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Research at Intel Day 2005

Keeping to the mobile device theme for now, Intel is also looking at various battery technologies and the way people use their laptops when it comes to charging the battery. What was shown was the internals of one traditional laptop with the battery charging circuitry as part of the motherboard and a new design with it moved into the charger. The advantage of the second approach is that you get a much cooler running laptop.

This does however involve a few other tweaks as the laptop needs to be able to communicate with the charger to let it know how much power it needs to charge the battery. According to the Intel R&D guys, this was solved by adding a second shield to the charger connector which is used for simple communications between the laptop and charger. As a bonus for those who travel regularly with their laptop, a pocket size travel charger could be used for trickle charging your laptop over night in your hotel room. So no more need for carrying that power brick with you.

If you’re an avid reader of TrustedReviews you might have read our review of the Pegasus Mobile NoteTaker. You might wonder why I mention it in the middle of all this new technology from Intel. Well, it’s simple, the technology has now moved on from simple pen and paper applications to become a low cost touch screen technology. As it’s based on ultra sound technology you could get an attachment for pretty much any display and Intel’s slogan “Transform any screen into a touch screen for a few dollars” sounded promising.

The only caveat here is that it’s nothing like using a proper touch screen, as there is quite a bit of lag, while the accuracy is also quite poor. You do also have to apply a certain amount of pressure to the screen as it’s when the point of the pen is pushed inwards that a signal from the pen is transmitted to the receiver. The demo display had a plastic sheet in front of it protecting the screen from any damage. However, as a low cost alternative used at schools in combination with CRT displays this could be a hit.

While we’re on the subject of pen based input, Intel has spent a lot of time and money on ethnographic research. No, I didn’t fall asleep during the presentation as the two do in fact have something in common. Intel found that a lot of people in China wanted a PC in their home, but they were worried that their children would spend too much time playing instead of studying. So Intel developed the China home learning PC, which can be used in one of two modes. With the TFT display upright and with a key just below the screen set to PC mode it works just like any other PC.

Turn the key into the learning position and it locks out all the PC features apart from the educational content. The screen can be titled forward and downwards to lie at an almost flat angle on the desk. This has been done so that the children whose parents invest in one of the machines can learn how to write the various Chinese characters. As there are several thousand to learn this is a very good way to practice them. On top of this the PC can also be used to learn English, both written and spoken.

The final part of the tour consisted of a trip to the Intel Photonics lab where Intel is working on silicon lasers and optical switches. The advantage that silicon laser technology offers over the technology commonly used in high-end networking products and telephone systems is a far lower cost. Although there is still a lot of work to be done before a final product is ready, several demos were shown to the gathered journalists. Intel doesn’t intend to compete with the top of the range solutions that are already available, but is rather focusing on the larger share of the market.

The most impressive demo was of HD video content being streamed over 2km of optical cable using the new silicon technology. Intel is also the first company to have a continuous silicon laser. I have to be honest and say that a lot of the photonics technology that was shown was beyond me, but hopefully it will lead to affordable fibre networks which will bring higher speed broadband at a reasonable price to the masses. Initially this new technology will be used for server rack connections and NAS storage networks, but Intel has big plans for its photonics technology.

Having known Intel as mainly a processor and chipset company the visit to Intel’s R&D lab in Santa Clara makes you realise that the company is doing much more than this. With its new approach to R&D, not to just develop new chips, but whole solutions it’s definitely going to be interesting to see what comes out of the Intel labs over the next few years.

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